Carefully considered planting softens and complements the sharp lines of a thoroughly modern Sydney home.
Looking back, it was the rooftop terrace that sold it. For architect Ziad Chanine, the 90-square-metre space was irresistible, with its views over the treetops and rooftops of the inner west, toward the dazzle of the Sydney skyline. Ziad used the terrace as the starting point for the design of his dream house, and the result is a confident contemporary building that dominates the space in which it sits.
The landscape design had to complement the architecture; its role was to ground the building on the street; to turn the bare terrace into a friendly space; and to screen and soften the pool area. To make it happen, Ziad turned to landscape designer Adam Robinson. Also trained in interior design, Adam has built a reputation for outdoor spaces that link seamlessly with the buildings they match and the interiors they extend. “The starting point for an outdoor space like this is always the architecture,” he says. “I often find that as garden designers, we are not so much creating as re-creating – pulling the architecture and the interiors outside.”
The key for the large terrace was, as Ziad says, “to soften it without making it fluffy”. Adam paved the area with grey granite tiles and used small clusters of oversized round white pots to break up its rectilinear lines. These were planted with frangipani, and the native Correa alba, and matched with slightly smaller pots of Furcraea. The large table setting from Cosh Living was matched with upholstered seats for comfort. “It’s important in an outdoor space like this that the furniture looks like it is meant to be outdoors and can develop a bit of an aged look,” says Adam, “rather than being glossy and stark.”
The minimal interventions by Adam have had a major impact. “The terrace is still open,” says Ziad, “but the layering approach that Adam took, with the pots of different sizes, a few plants and the tabletop, means you’re not just looking at an expansive view, but a view framed by the frangipanis and those other elements.”
On ground level and backed by a screen of Slender Weaver bamboo, the pool fits sleekly along the side of the house. “The pool was designed as a backdrop to the living space,” says Ziad, “and the bamboo blocks the view of the brick wall next door. We turn the lights on in the evening and the blue glow of the pool really extends the space of the living room. And because the bamboo reaches to the second storey, looking out from the bedroom, you see the bamboo, and hear it whispering in the wind.”
The third element of the landscaping brief was an entry garden. “The aim was to complement the architecture but also to soften it a bit and ground it in the property,” says Adam. He chose a palette of tough plants with a range of forms and textures, from the stiff swords of mother-in-law’s tongues, and firm fronds of zamia, to the soft Zoysia grass and fluffy Carex.
Ziad has been surprised how successful this part of the landscaping has been, and how welcoming it is to walk into the house through the lush garden. “I’m not a patient person, so we went for mature plants, and it looked beautiful from day one. Now, a year on, it’s just phenomenal – it looks like it’s been there for years.”
In most building and landscaping projects, there is a tinge of regret within the celebration of the new – something that didn’t work out quite as planned, or an opportunity missed. But in this project, says Ziad, everything turned out just the way it should, just as he’d envisaged. “In this house, there’s no component I would go back and change,” he says. “The landscaping and the architecture – everything works really well, hand-in-hand.”